(CNN) — President Joe Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson, defended her judicial record Tuesday as she faced intense questioning from Republican senators during the second day of her historic confirmation hearings.
Republicans have attempted to portray the nominee as weak on crime by zeroing in on some of her past defense work and have raised questions over her judicial philosophy as they warn against activism, and prescribing policy outcomes, from the bench.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Jackson addressed and disputed those criticisms by stressing her concern for public safety and the rule of law, both as a judge and an American. She argued that she approaches her work in an impartial way and that personal opinions do not play a role.
When pressed by Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Jackson sidestepped a question related to whether she supported expanding the Supreme Court to include more than nine justices.
“It is a policy question for Congress,” she said. “I am particularly mindful of not speaking to policy issues because I am so committed to staying in my lane.”
Democrats have so far used the hearings to praise Brown — who would be the first Black woman to serve as a Supreme Court justice — as an exceptionally qualified, trail-blazing nominee whose depth and breadth of experience, including as a federal public defender, would add a valuable and unique perspective to the bench.
The hearings kicked off on Monday with opening statements from senators on the panel and the nominee. Two days of questioning — expected to be the most contentious part of the public vetting process on Capitol Hill — got underway Tuesday morning and will continue through Wednesday.
Jackson describes process for ‘ruling impartially’ amid GOP questions over judicial philosophy
Jackson said on Tuesday that she approaches her work in such a way so as to ensure impartiality and does not impose personal opinions or policy preferences, an assertion that comes as Republican senators have expressed concerns over judicial activism.
“I have developed a methodology that I use in order to ensure that I am ruling impartially and that I am adhering to the limits on my judicial authority,” Jackson said.
“When I get a case, I ensure that I am proceeding from a position of neutrality,” she said.
“I am not importing my personal views or policy preferences,” she added.
Later on during the hearing, Jackson said, with respect to her approach to judging, “there is not a label, I think, that fits what it is that I do and how I’ve approached my role.”
Asked by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham if she would say that she is an activist judge, Jackson replied, “I would not say that.”
Jackson disputes claims she is weak on crime: ‘I care deeply about public safety’
Jackson said during Tuesday’s hearing, “I care deeply about public safety,” and referenced the fact that she has family members who have worked in law enforcement.
“I know what it’s like to have loved ones who go off to protect and to serve and the fear of not knowing whether or not they’re going to come home again because of crime in the community,” she said.
“Crime, and the effects on the community, and the need for law enforcement — those are not abstract concepts or political slogans to me,” she said.
The insistence by the nominee that she cares about public safety comes as Republicans have widely attempted to portray her record as weak on crime.
“As a judge, I care deeply about the rule of law and I know that in order for us to have a functioning society we have to have people being held accountable for committing crimes,” she said. “We have to do so fairly, under our Constitution.”
Jackson discusses advocacy for Guantanamo Bay detainees
As a public defender, Jackson represented a Guantanamo Bay detainee, though it’s her advocacy for detainees while she worked at a private firm that Republicans are particularly skeptical of. The advocacy came in the form of amici briefs, penned while an attorney at the firm Morrison & Foerster, supporting detainees in cases before the Supreme Court.
Jackson called the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, “a tragic attack on this country” and paid tribute to military service members.
“After 9/11, there were also lawyers who recognized that our nation’s values were under attack. That we couldn’t let the terrorists win by changing who we were fundamentally.”
“What that meant was that the people who were being accused by our government of having engaged in actions related to this, under our constitutional scheme, were entitled to representation, were entitled to be treated fairly. That’s what makes our system the best in the world,” she said.
Describing her work as a public defender, Jackson said, “I was in the federal public defender’s office right after the Supreme Court decided that individuals who were detained at Guantanamo Bay by the President could seek review of their detention.”
She added, “Federal public defenders don’t get to pick their clients. They have to represent whoever comes in and it’s a service. That’s what you do as a federal public defender, you are standing up for the constitutional value of representation.”
At one point during the hearing, Graham, the only Republican member of the Judiciary Committee who voted for Jackson for the DC Circuit last year, grilled the nominee in an intense line of questioning.
“If you had your way, the executive branch could not do periodic reviews about the danger the detainee presents to the United States, they would have to make a decision of trying them or releasing them, is that not accurate?” he asked.
“Respectfully, senator, it was not my argument,” Jackson said in response. She said she was “filing an amicus brief on behalf of clients,” citing various organizations.
Graham told CNN it’s “fair to say” he sees red flags with her nomination in an interview after his first round of grilling the nominee, saying her answers on defending Guantanamo Bay detainees “just doesn’t make sense to me.” Graham will get a chance to ask questions again at the hearing on Wednesday.
Jackson rebuts scrutiny of her approach to child porn offenses
As the Senate vets the nomination, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri has raised concerns about Jackson’s record on sentencing in child pornography cases.
Jackson forcefully rebutted the accusations on Tuesday and referred to the issue as a “sickening and egregious crime.”
“As a mother, and a judge who has had to deal with these cases, I was thinking that nothing could be further from the truth,” the nominee said when asked by Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, to react to the charges.
An in-depth CNN review of the material in question shows that Jackson has mostly followed the common judicial sentencing practices in these kinds of cases. It has become a norm among judges to issue sentences below the guidelines in certain child pornography cases that don’t involve producing the pornography itself.
A group of retired federal judges — including two Republican appointees — told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday night that Jackson’s record on child pornography sentencing is “entirely consistent” with the records of other judges across the country.
The White House and Senate Democrats have also refuted the criticisms in defense of Jackson.
“In the vast majority of cases involving child sex crimes, the sentences Judge Jackson imposed were consistent with or above what the government or US probation recommended,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week.
Court packing and other key issues
Republican senators have also criticized support for the nomination from left wing groups and attempted to pin Jackson down on the hot-button issue of expanding the number of Supreme Court justices who sit on the bench, also known as court packing, an idea that has gained currency among progressive elements of the Democratic Party.
On Tuesday, Jackson argued that it was not in her purview to weigh in on a politically sensitive topic.
“In my view, judges should not be speaking to political issues, and certainly not a nominee for a position on the Supreme Court,” she said in response to a question on the issue.
Later on in the hearing, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California asked Jackson if she believes Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide, is settled as precedent.
“Roe and Casey are settled law of the Supreme Court concerning the right to terminate a woman’s pregnancy,” Jackson said. Planned Parenthood v. Casey was decided in 1992 to affirm the central holding of Roe v. Wade giving women the right to end pregnancies before viability.
What’s next after confirmation hearings conclude
Democrats can confirm Jackson to the high court on the strength of their narrow Senate majority, with 50 votes and Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a tie. The party does not need any Republican support for successful confirmation, but if any Republicans do vote to confirm, it would give the White House a chance to tout a bipartisan confirmation.
It’s not yet clear, however, whether Jackson will receive any votes from Republicans.
When the Senate voted to confirm her last year to fill a vacancy on a powerful DC-based appellate court, three Republican senators voted with Democrats in favor: Graham, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Tuesday.
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